The wrong way to handle customer service problems

Not surprisingly, the answer is associated with United and US Airways, both renown for call center problems.

If you were flying on United and had a problem on your flight you could either send a letter, send an email or call the customer service desk.  The customer service desk was part of their call center in India, and apparently they weren’t very good at solving customers’ problems.  At least that is the story that United’s management wants you to believe.  Or, it is possible that they were so ignorant that they just gave vouchers and mile credits for anything and everything that someone complained about, like this guy.  Basically United just kept giving him stuff, right up until they did an audit and took it all back:

Our review found that although you flew only 24,891 actual miles in 2008, you contacted us to obtain mileage compensation of 68,500 miles, numerous upgrades, and $5,125 in dollar off certificates.

Our review also found that you were provided with significant compensation due to your initiation of contact with us numerous times over the same issues. Quite frankly, much of this compensation was offered without our knowledge that you had already been appropriately compensated

Sure, but he must just be an outlier, right?  Still, what is the best way to ensure prompt and reliable support for customers?  Kill the phone lines.  United actually pulled the plug on their customer service number and shut down that group at the call center in India, preferring to handle such claims only via email or webpage submissions going forward.  They claim that this will let them keep some USA-based employees on the job and save some money from the ICC.  Not a bad deal, I’m sure, for everyone except the customers (even those who don’t abuse the system like Mr. Yen above).

Oh, and they seem to have pissed off the Call Center industry in India something special by pulling these jobs out and bringing them back on-shore, though that isn’t really a surprise.

The really had part for me to wrap my head around on this one is that they are going to take folks who were just doing reservations work and now make them do reservations and complaint resolution.  And this is going to save 165 jobs in the USA.  Were those employees really that underutilized or is this United’s way of saying that they are cutting costs but keeping the employees (unionized, for what it is worth) in the USA but hosing the customers with longer hold times and lack of phone access to problem resolution in many cases?  I’m guessing the latter.

US Air has a similar problem.  The folks in most of their call centers just weren’t very helpful for the customers.  But the Executive Offices out in Arizona had another group of customer service folks who were there to provide a last line of help when everything else came up short.  That service was so effective, in fact, that people actually used it.  A lot.  And so US Air had to put an end to such practices.  Rather than forwarding that phone to some other group of internal CSRs who were trained to provide appropriate customer service, US Air just disconnected the line.  Call the number and you get a lovely recording from the phone company that the line is no longer in service.  Talk about a horrid way to treat your customers.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.